Bucharest was supposed to be your only stop. You had planned to glide in and glide out—by train, of course—to check Romania’s capital off your list before heading toward the waterfront cities you’d been dreaming about on the Adriatic Sea. But somewhere along the way, plans changed. It might have been the beautiful landscape as you traveled through green river valleys and gazed at rocky peaks in the distance. It could have been the picturesque medieval villages with their castles that probably inspired fairy tales. Or perhaps it was the friendly people and the hearty food that captured your heart. Either way, you quickly fell for this Southeast European country.
So after hearing the name Sighișoara a few times, you headed northwest, deep into Transylvania, instead of west as planned. The central Romania region is known for its stunning natural beauty, hidden historic sites, and vampire folklore. It’s surrounded by the Carpathian and Apuseni Mountains. Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula here. While one of the most beautiful and well-preserved fortified towns in Eastern Europe stands guard over the Târnava Mare River.
When you arrive at the Sighișoara Train Station, pass the Holy Trinity Church and cross the river to start exploring the hillside Sighișoara Citadel. In the 12th century, the King of Hungary invited the Transylvania Saxons (German craftsmen and merchants) to settle and defend the undeveloped frontier. They built a medieval fortified city, complete with thick walls, 14 watchtowers, and five artillery bastions. Candy-colored medieval houses line the tiny cobbled streets that wind through the Citadel. They’re now filled with little cafés, watercolor and oil paintings, and small museums. This is not a pristine historic site though. The town may have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it’s also one of the few fortified towns that’s still inhabited in Eastern Europe. The liveliness only adds to its charm.
Spend the day exploring the town’s historic sites. The Clock Tower, with its Baroque-tiled roof and old torture chamber in the basement, overlooks the rest of the town. It may be home to a history museum, but the best part is the view from the balcony. The late-Gothic-style Monastery Church sits next door. The small Weapon Museum, full of medieval arrows and swords, and the Vlad Dracul House, where Vlad Țepeș—the inspiration for Count Dracula—was supposedly born, are in the center of town. While the Covered Staircase, featuring nearly 200 steps, leads to the Church on the Hill. The Lutheran church, built where a Roman fort once stood, is home to frescoes. While the next-door cemetery is full of German tombs.
By the time you wander back through the jumbled streets—stopping to eat a piping hot, pretzel-like covrigi and buy locally made brandy along the way—you’re starting to wonder what else is hidden deep in the Romanian mountains. You’re in no rush now.